Chinese New Year celebrations in Philadelphia's Chinatown on Sunday featured fireworks, elaborately costumed lion dances, and martial arts. Credit: Charles Mostoller/Metro
The traditional Chinese calendar is lunar, based on cycles of the moon, and revolves around the Chinese zodiac of 12 animals. According to the calendar, 2014 is the year of the horse, which is associated with that animal’s hard-working spirit.
Equally hard-working are the members of the local Chinese community who stepped up to make the Chinese New Years parade, held yesterday in Chinatown, a sign of good tidings for the future year.
“It’s always an exciting time,” said Harry Leong, leader of the Philadelphia Suns, who performed their traditional lion dance on Thursday and throughout Chinatown on Sunday, entering local businesses to dance and spread good fortune in return for lucky money.
About 150 to 200 dancers participated along with the Suns lion dancers. The dancers range in age from children to the elderly. Some just walk in the dance, but others take on the physically daunting task of carrying the lion head.
Leong himself, who is 49, has been participating in lion dances since he was 8. And he said it is a tough activity to undertake.
“Your legs, your back, your arms – it’s about 25 pounds plus the weight of the tail,” Leong said. “You’re holding a 25 pound weight up and down, up and down. How many reps can you do?”
But to Leong and the Suns – who are also a basketball and volleyball team – the parade is much more than an annual dance party.
“Its part of our lifestyle,” Leong said. “It’s something that, if it were taken away or we were not able to perform, the whole generation of people would just miss that aspect of their lives.”
Ping-Ho Lee, main street manager of the Chinatown Community Development Center (CDC), acknowledged that 2014 celebrations are a bit smaller than in past years due to funding. But Lee still said Philadelphia’s Chinese New Year’s celebrations are the best around.
“New York’s Chinatown is really gigantic, but it’s also harder for people to understand where to go,” Lee said. “Philly Chinatown is pretty condensed. There’s accommodations nearby, hotels, it’s just more convenient.”
Philadelphia’s Chinatown always see a heavy flow of outsiders visiting during New Year’s celebrations, Lee said.
Lee mentioned that the beliefs associated with the Chinese lunar calendar even extend to what days of the week are best for certain activities.
“My in-laws are actually looking at the lunar calendar to figure out what’s a good day to go out, which is a good day for moving,” she said.
To help visitors to the city navigate the schedule of Chinese New Year events, running through Feb. 5, the Chinatown CDC also has printed up a small brochure which they are distributing from their offices and around various business participating.